Friday, July 3, 2009

Bellevue to start measuring water use

City says water meters will help establish fair usage fees

Express Staff Writer

The first water meters in the city of Bellevue will be installed later this summer. Photo by David N. Seelig

The first water meters in Bellevue could be in the ground and operational by the end of September, providing the first accurate data on water usage in the city.

Hooking up water meters to 59 homes in Old Bellevue will mark the start of a 15-year plan to upgrade the size of water mains and equalize water pressure across the city. The meters will also begin a process of equalizing fees for the amount of water residents use in the city.

Bellevue currently charges residential units a flat rate of $20 per month for water, regardless of the amount consumed or the size of the property. In a city with lots ranging in size from 6,000 square feet to 2.5 acres, some residents are watering far more than others to keep their lawns green.

"The goal here is equity," said City Administrator Tom Blanchard. "There are people who could be using up to 15 times as much water and paying the same fee."

The plan to begin water metering in the city was launched last fall after the Public Works Department discovered an old water main that ran under several buildings along Chestnut Street, rather than under the alley in the city's right of way, as it should have. Last week, the City Council authorized replacement of the water main under one city block and put out to bid an additional five-block excavation in the alleys between Chestnut and Pine streets.

If the city authorizes the complete project, estimated to cost $280,000, 59 properties on Sixth, Seventh and Eighth streets will be connected to water meters. All of the residences are on 6,000-square-foot lots. The city is identifying larger lots in the city to install meters for comparison purposes.

Blanchard said current data suggests that domestic water use in the city averages about 6,500 gallons per residential unit, per month in winter. He said the figure jumps to 31,000 gallons per month in summer when most residents water their lawns.

"As we get better data, we may begin to charge a summer rate and winter rate," Blanchard said.

The primary source for water in Bellevue during winter is a spring in Muldoon Canyon, east of the city. In summer, the city also relies on two municipal wells to meet demand.

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